Some of The History of SubRon 14

USS Proteus
Page 4

The following article is from The Reader's Digest dated July 1963.


Nuclear sub Patrick Henry in the Scottish loch.

A Scottish protester sits defiantly astride the rudder

 
 

The U.S. Navy "Conquers" Holy Loch

"Killers withdraw!" was the first reaction of the Scots to a Polaris submarine base in their waters. But the Navy held its course.

Condensed from CHRISTIAN HERALD
CHRISTINE HOTCHKISS

Christian Herald (July 1963)  © 1963 By Christian Herald Assn.,
27 E. 39 St., New York 16, N.Y.  Photo European

 

On a cold day last summer when the hills around Dunoon, gateway to the Scottish Highlands, were swathed in purple mist, a launch flying the U.S. ensign at its stern plowed across the wind-whipped waters of Holy Loch. In the boat, protected from the wind by a tarpaulin roof, sat a group of ladies dressed in flowery hats and white gloves; they were accompanied by Scotsmen in black pinstriped suits and stiff collars.

In the middle of the loch the launch pulled alongside the giant U.S.S. Proteus, floating base for submarine repairs and crew quarters. Moored nearby was a floating dry-dock; also, elegant and compact, the U.S. nuclear submarine Patrick Henry, just returned from patrol. Aboard the Proteus, Captain Walter Schlech of the U.S. Navy, then commander of Submarine Squadron 14 based at Holy Loch, was holding one of his regularly scheduled receptions for members of the city council and notables of Dunoon. The Scots had lunch and spent the afternoon with ship's officers and crew members, discussing, in an atmosphere of goodwill, problems pertaining to the presence of some 1500 Americans and several nuclear submarines in their midst.

The United States presently has nine ballistic missile submarines coming and going out of Holy Loch on patrol. These ships are part of a deadly weapons system, one of the free world's most effective deterrent forces; each carries 16 nuclear tipped Polaris missiles.

From the Navy's point of view, the site is ideal. Holy Loch (named "Holy," it is said, because a ship, carrying two sacks of soil from the Holy Land at the time of the Crusades, capsized in the loch) is 110 feet deep.  Reached by a narrow gorge from the Firth of Clyde, it is secluded, sheltered from the wind, ideal for servicing the submarines before they begin their solitary 60 day patrols.

Though the presence of U.S. Navy is amiably accepted today by the 10,000 residents of Dunoon, a quiet resort town on the north edge of the loch, it was not always so.

The word first came in November 1960: the British government had agreed to grant the United States a Polaris submarine base in Scotland and had selected the north-western tip of Holy Loch as the site. The news hit Dunoon like a bomb.

"Why choose us?" demanded the villagers. "This base will draw the lightning on our heads!  We would he the first to be hit if war came!"

Powerful opposition came also from Greenock, the port of Glasgow, and from the shipyard towns on the lower Clyde. The issue be-came the rallying point for the pacifist left wing of the Labor Party. Indignation rose to a fever pitch. Protest meetings were held. Tele-grams were dispatched to Prime Minister Macmillan.

"This dismal news has murdered sleep in Dunoon," proclaimed a letter to the editor of the Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard.  "We are being subjected to the risk of contamination and total annihilation," wrote one subscriber. Others worried about Americanization.  "I shudder to think that this lovely, peaceful village will soon have snack bars, hot dog stands, ice cream parlors, slot machines and juke-boxes," wrote a retired colonel.

Despite all protests, the Navy held its course. On March 3, 1961, the grim, dark gray Proteus sailed up the Firth of Clyde, to be followed a week later by the first submarine of the squadron. On arrival, the Proteus took aboard 200 reporters from 15 countries. The government of the United Kingdom has granted us permission to be here," Capt. Richard B. Laning, the ship's commanding officer, told them. "Our families will join us, our children will go to school with the children of Dunoon. We hope to convince you that we want to live among you peaceably."

But as soon as the ship anchored in Holy Loch, several members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament clambered onto the anchor chains and had to he prized off by U.S. sailors. Day after day, protest marchers crowded the streets in Glasgow and Dunoon, blocking traffic, waving placards that said "Yankee Go Home" or "Killers Withdraw!" For a time it looked as if the Navy might have to scuttle the project.

Today, around Holy Loch, those initial fears and demonstrations are remembered with embarrassment. Dunoon has not become Americanized. Instead, the Americans have surrendered to the charm of Scottish life. When the Proteus returned to the States in March this year, replaced by the Hunley, she took with her 130 Scottish brides.  More are engaged.  There is so much romance around the base that wits have started to call it "Holy Wed-Loch."

Navy wives carrying Scottish made string bags shop for local meats and produce; they live as the Scots do, take part in church suppers, school meetings, golf.  A U.S. lieutenant commander heads an Argyll Cub Scout pack.  The Rotary Club of Dunoon exchanges visits officers.  There is an annual dinghy race between the U.S. Navy and Dunoon sailing club members, with a "Polaris Cup" trophy going to the winner. Some American servicemen have learned to play the bagpipes, and many have mastered the intricacies of Scottish country dances.  Also, not unnoticed by the Scottish businessmen is the healthy effect of the Navy payroll on the local economy.

Some 300 American children at-tend the Dunoon and neighboring schools, play soccer, cricket, lacrosse, learn about Mary, Queen of Scots, and an assortment of Scottish kings and queens that even English children rarely hear of. Instead of taking school buses, many walk or bicycle to school; instead of watching "the telly" every evening, they struggle with mountains of home-work (the Scottish school system is said to be one of the toughest in Britain).  They have become impervious to rain and the bone chilling dampness; even their mothers admit that they have never looked better.

When the Navy wives had trouble building coal fires in their ovens and stoves, the Navy engaged a Scotsman to teach them how. True to type, he spoke in a burr with prickles on it. "Here ye come, your husbands entrusted with the most awesome technical weapons of our time," he exclaimed, "and ye can't build a coal fire!" But the American women learned.  And now, having watched them struggle through two Scottish winters, the Scots have acquired a healthy respect for their resourcefulness and pioneer spirit.

At every level, mutual affection runs deep. When Captain Sehlech's tour of duty ended last November (1962), his departure caused genuine regret. The Schlechs' two boys, who remained in Scotland to finish their schooling, had dozens of "adopted" parents to choose from.




How did the U.S. Navy reverse the fearful, reluctant attitude of the Scottish people? A hundred small, spontaneous actions turned the tide. Word spread, for instance, that the crew of the U.S. Navy floating dry-dock had "adopted" a little girl at the Kirn children's home Ann Burns, aged ten and that the men were collecting a trust fund ($1300 so far) for her.  At Christmas time the sailors organized a collection for the children, bought them new clothes and other presents, gave shipboard parties for them.  The men spent part of the holidays doing odd jobs at old people's homes.



 
 
 
Photo  U.S. NAVY
Young Ann Burns with friends of the U.S. Navy

Word also got around that Wendy Maddox, a totally deaf 15 year old, was going to the United States for a visit, with funds contributed by men of the Patrick Henry.  (Wendy spent two weeks last March (1963) in Groton, Conn., and hopes later to attend Gallaudet College for the deaf in Washington, D.C.).

One afternoon when a gale suddenly blasted across Holy Loch, trapping a large number of sailing club members aboard their boats, it was a launch from the Proteus that came charging into the anchor-age to pick them up and carry them to safety. None of these and other similar incidents was lost on the observing Scots.

On the question of nuclear risks, lectures and talks helped reassure the people. Submarine, officers traveled the length and breadth of the Highlands, quietly explaining the mission of the Polaris submarine and why it is impossible for one of their missiles to go off by chance.  In this effort, too, the American women were helpful. At her own expense, Barbara Schlech, wife of the squadron commander, toured rural women's clubs to discuss the Navy's mission in Scotland from the point of view of the wife and mother.

Much of the goodwill can be traced back to a decision made in Washington, D.C., when plans for sending the submarine squadron to Scotland were being drawn up. A certain amount of opposition to the base was anticipated and, to help overcome it, it was decided not to build a typical U.S. overseas base or self contained golden ghetto.

Here there would be no special dependents' housing, no U.S. school; hospitals, movies, squash courts and no huge U.S. post exchange. Instead the American contingent would be encouraged to take part in the community's life, to live as the Scots do.

How much a part of the local landscape the Navy has become in Scotland was seen last October. Suddenly, at the beginning of the Cuban crisis, the U.S. submarines slipped out of the loch. Almost before anyone realized it, the giant Proteus was gone. The reaction from the in-habitants of Dunoon was one of dismay. "Our first line of defense has gone!" they cried, the same people who two years before had filed a petition to keep the Americans out. They were reassured when, five days later, the subs returned.

The whole incident had a deep effect on the Scots. They realized there were other strategic reasons behind the maneuver; yet it also showed them that the submarine squadron will not stay to "draw the lightning" but will leave when its presence may endanger its hosts. With that action, perhaps, the full measure of confidence between the Scots and the Americans was achieved.

USS Proteus '62-'63
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USS Hunley '63-'64
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| The History of SubRon Fourteen | Holy Loch Reunion News | USS Proteus '62-'63 |
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| eMail List from Holy Loch, Scotland | The Lone Sailor West Haven, Connecticut | Plaques of SubRon 14 |
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Started on: 20 July 1998
Last revised: 26 April, 2008 by ThistleGroup.